Prospect Files: Aaron Taylor

Aaron Taylor has dominated at each stop in the Mariners' minor league system, but the tall right-hander has struggled both times he's been called up to the majors. Could 2004 be the year he breaks through and ends that trend?

Position: RHP
Born: August 20, 1977
Place: Valdosta, GA
Height: 6-5
Weight: 200
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
How Acquired: Selected by the Mariners from the Braves in the minor league Rule 5 draft, Dec. 13, 1999

Aaron Taylor's career was going nowhere after four seasons as a starting pitcher in the Atlanta Braves organization. Still just 22 in 1999, the Mariners saw untapped potential in the Georgia native, and took a flyer on the righty by claiming him in the minor league Rule 5 draft.

Taylor's first season in the M's farm system was hardly the kind that would make for a good first impression. At Everett in 2000, he started 14 of the 15 games he pitched in, going 1-4 with a 7.43 ERA. Still, the M's kept faith in him, even when Taylor had lost it in himself.

In fact, Taylor temporarily hung up his cleats during Spring Training of 2001 after having a career minor league ERA of 6.26 in his first five professional seasons.

The following season, at Wisconsin, Taylor returned to the field and things started to change in the right direction. He was moved to a relief role, where the organization felt he could concentrate on utilizing his mid-90s fastball to get only a couple hitters out at a time. He went 3-1 that year, 2001, sporting a 2.45 ERA with 9 saves.

Success followed him to Double-A San Antonio in 2002, where he went 4-3 with a 2.34 ERA and 24 saves. The M's thought so much of his progress that he was called up to Seattle late in the season. There, he struggled as so many rookie pitchers do, sporting a 9.00 ERA in five relief appearances.

At Tacoma last season, at age 26, Taylor continued to build on two consecutive solid years with a 1-3 record, a 2.45 ERA, and 16 saves in 33 appearances. His fastball reached as high as 98 mph, and his other two pitches – a slider and splitter – progressed nicely. More important, though, was that as a closer he appeared to be right in his element.

"He has kind of a bulldog mentality," said Corey Brock, a sports reporter for the Morning News Tribune who has covered the Rainiers for several years. "He seemed to enjoy being a closer for really only the second year (in that role) in his career."

The main concern for Taylor is whether he will be able to gain a better command of all three of his pitches. His fastball, while overpowering, becomes hittable when he falls behind in the count and struggles to locate his slider. This showed when Taylor was called up to Seattle last year, as he gave up 17 hits and 6 walks in 12.2 innings. The results? Twelve earned runs.

"I'm not sure his stuff is good enough to be considered a closer at the big league level," said Brock. "I worry about his command. He can get in real trouble when he's behind in the count."

Due to the depth of Seattle's bullpen and the team's need for a left-hander more than another righty, look for Taylor to refine his pitches with a little more seasoning at Tacoma to start 2004.

TOOLS: Grading Scale

Fastball: 70
Taylor's heater ranges anywhere from 94-97 and tops out at 99, smoke that few major leaguers even have.

Slider: 50+
Not his most reliable pitch, Taylor's slider is his best friend when it's working but his biggest enemy when it isn't. He has a tendency to drop his arm angle at times, making the slider flatten out and become more hittable.

Splitter: 50
Regarded more highly than his slider, Taylor's uses his splitter to offset his fastball and change the eye-angle of the batters.

Mound Presence: 60
At 6-5, Taylor is an imposing figure on the mound when he looks in towards home plate. Add to that his overpowering fastball and an occasional lack of control, and it can't be easy for batters to step in confidently against him.

Intangibles: 40
At 26 years old, Taylor isn't the youngest of prospects and this could be a make-or-break season for him in the M's organization.


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